British Airways PLC is the largest international airline in the world. It is based at Heathrow Airport in London, the busiest international airport in the world, and has a global flight network through such partners as USAir in the United States, Qantas in Australia, and TAT European Airlines in France. Via its own operations and those of its alliance partners, British Airways serves 95 million passengers a year using 441 airports in 86 countries and more than 1,000 planes. British Airways' earliest predecessor was Aircraft Transport & Travel, Ltd., founded in 1916. On August 25, 1919 this company inaugurated the world's first scheduled international air service, with a converted de Havilland 4A day bomber leaving Hounslow (later Heathrow) Airport for London and also Le Bourget in Paris. Eight days later another company, Handley Page Transport, Ltd., started a cross-channel service between London's Cricklewood Field and both Paris and Brussels. That same year Britain's advisory committee for civil aviation proposed plans for establishing a world airline network linking Britain with Canada, India, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Because airplanes capable of crossing wide stretches of water were not yet available, the committee recommended that first priority be given to a route to India operated by state-assisted private enterprise. Progress was made quickly. Before the end of the year the British government was operating a service to Karachi and had established a network of 43 Royal Air Force (RAF) landing strips through Africa to the Cape of Good Hope. Meanwhile, strong competition from subsidized foreign airline companies had forced many of the private British air carriers out of business. By March 1921 all British airline companies had suspended their operations. The government responded with a pledge to keep the British companies flying, using its own form of subsidization. In January 1923 Parliament appointed the Civil Air Transport Subsidies Committee to form a single British international air carrier from existing companies. On March 31, 1924 the Daimler Airway, British Marine Air Navigation, Instone Air Line, and Handley Page merged to become Imperial Air Transport. In 1925 Imperial Airways operated a number of European routes while it surveyed a route across the Arabian desert from Cairo to Basra in present-day Iraq. The airline was faced with a number of problems on this route. The desert was featureless, making it easy to get lost. Water stops and meteorological and radio stations were difficult to maintain. Basra was a major terminal on the route to India. However, on January 7, 1927 the Persian government forbade Britain the use of its airspace, blocking all flights to India. Negotiations reopened the airspace two years later, but not before generating a demand for longer range aircraft. Passengers flying to India flew from London via Paris to Basel, where they boarded a train for Genoa. A flying boat then took them on to Alexandria, where they flew in stages to Karachi. The passage to India, previously three weeks by sea, had been reduced to one week by air. Imperial Airways service to Calcutta was established in July 1933, to Rangoon in September, and to Singapore in December. In January of the following year the Australia's Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service (Qantas) inaugurated a route linking Singapore with Brisbane. The passage to Australia could be completed in twelve-and-a-half days. A commercial service through Africa was opened in 1931 with flying boats linking Cairo with Mwanza on Lake Victoria. In April 1933 the route was extended to Cape Town, the trip from London taking ten-and-a-half days. An east-west trans-African route from Khartoum in the Sudan to Kano in northern Nigeria was established in February 1936. This route completed a world network which linked nearly all the countries of the British Empire. The primary source of revenue on the...
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